Protesters from local communities affected by mining and exploration disrupt a mineral resources conference in Belgrade

Representatives of environmental organizations and local communities from all parts of Serbia, victims of mining and mineral exploration, foreign mining companies and diplomatic representatives of several countries with strong industries in the sector interrupted the conference. They accused the Serbian government, which institutionally supported the event, of betraying the interests of its own people in favor of multinational corporations.

The 13th International Mineral Resources in Serbia: Sustainable Development through Responsible Mining, organized by TGI from Greece, started today in Belgrade. The two-day event is held under the auspices of the Ministry of Mines and Energy, the embassies of Australia, Canada, Sweden and Finland, the Canadian Serbian Business Association (CANSEE) and the Geological and Mining Association of Serbia (GRAS).

Local activists from regions across Serbia have opposed exploration activities, mostly for lithium, and the uncontrolled expansion of mines. Protesters who entered the conference room at the Metropole Palace Hotel expressed their displeasure that they were not allowed to speak as stakeholders from the affected communities.

A level of total resistance

Ljiljana Bralović from the Federation of Environmental Organizations of Serbia (SEOS) said the conference was an example of obstinacy. In front of the building, he read a letter written by the group to the program participants.

“Within our land, no one cares about the sale of land of which we are the sole owners. The silence against the arguments of professionals and people, the lack of transparency from all those who, regardless of our laws, unite for profit at our expense, brought us to a level of full-scale opposition and confirmed us in our idea and purpose. We must protect our land by all means,” Pralovic told the crowd.

„We’re already living a green agenda, so we don’t need yours,” local activists told conference attendees.

The organizers of the conference failed to invite members of the scientific community, primarily from the Serbian Academy of Sciences and Arts (SANU), who opposed the disastrous mining projects.

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“There is only green in the fields where we work, in our orchards and in the lush forests. We already live a green agenda, so we don’t need yours,” read Pralovic. In his view, what is happening at the conference is the most important situation in Serbia at the moment, more important than the upcoming elections.

Local anger flares over mining pollution

Serbia has seen rapid growth in mining projects over the past several years, with many incidents of water, soil and air pollution caused by expansion of facilities, new investments and exploratory drilling.

Mining companies Aramine, Dundee Precious Metals, ERM, Minova, Mundoro, Rio Tinto, Valmet Flow Control and Ibaera Capital’s Serbian subsidiary Zlatna reka Resources are sponsors of the conference.

Secrecy over Rio Tinto’s lithium mining and processing project in the country’s western Zadar region sparked a series of protests that culminated in massive roadblocks across the country two years ago. The government formally stopped disinvestment in January 2022, but the company made it clear that it had not given up.

Koganovic: The government does everything against its people

Demonstrators chanted „Rio Tinto, get out of Serbia” as they entered the conference room today.

“We understand foreign companies that pursue profits. We also understand foreign embassies trying to create better conditions for their companies to come to do business in Serbia. They do it for their own country, for their own people, to enable clean air and a healthy environment. But we cannot understand these officers of ours who do everything against their own people. They allow foreigners to pollute and economically exploit Serbia and offer people a path to prosperity, while they compensate their entire investment with heavy subsidies on behalf of job creation for foreigners.

Zlatko Kokanović from SEOS accused the authorities of treachery

It is easy to decide who is a foreign stooge, he said, underscoring accusations that environmental organizations are being funded from abroad for a political agenda. Protesters claimed that 150,000 people in the country have been affected by the screening process, denying them the right to a free mind and choice.

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Mining companies with disastrous reputations are swarming Serbia

Koganovic accused the government of being irresponsible towards the people and „committed an act of treachery”. He said the mining conference was a disgrace.

“Other than what we see in promotional videos, in local media or on social media, we don’t have any information other than what we hear from companies. Companies with disastrous reputations are lurking around Serbia, whether it’s somebody’s dowry or private property, our government is going around the world, signing everything without notifying the public here,” Koganovic told reporters.

According to recent media reports, the Serbian government and the European Commission signed a memorandum of understanding in September to launch a strategic partnership for key raw materials, including batteries and lithium. However, the agreement was not disclosed.

Kokanović belongs to the group Ne damo Jadar, which is fighting against the construction of Rio Tinto’s proposed lithium mine and processing facility near the town of Losnica. The remaining companies in SEOS are from Valjevo, Pranjani, Jagodina, Rekovac and Dobrinja, while other foreign companies are exploring lithium reserves.

In the conference room, protesters chanted, „Who are the foreign mercenaries here?” They showed the banner.

Profits from making deals with polluters at the mining conference

Retired chemistry professor Nenad M. said the conference in Belgrade was not a scientific and professional meeting on geology and mining. Gostic said.

„This is an opportunity to make agreements with polluters of the environment… The EU is talking out of both sides of its mouth: on the one hand there are more demands to meet environmental protection regulations, on the other hand it is slipping in damaging, toxic and irreparable mines,” he emphasized.

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